White-collar crime largely a hidden problem, criminologist says
‘These people get away with it,’ professor says after allegations made in Moncton area
A criminologist says white-collar crime is probably quite common in New Brunswick, but no one is really keeping track of it.
"There's hardly anyone keeping tabs on the numbers," said Jean Sauvageau, an associate professor at St. Thomas University.
Sauvageau was responding to allegations that have come to light in Moncton against a man who used to work at the 3+ economic development agency.
Daniel Bard, whose job was to attract investment to the Moncton, Dieppe and Riverview area, is under investigation for possible breach of trust.
He has been accused by at least four business owners of taking their money through a sideline venture-management business in exchange for the promise of business loans that never materialized.
Some of the allegations date back to 2016. Those who feel wronged by Bard haven't been able to find him.
No luck with commission
One business owner has told Radio-Canada they called the New Brunswick Financial and Consumer Services Commission to find out whether it had a file on Bard and were told there was none.
The commission can't always disclose when someone is under investigation, according to lawyer Manon Losier, its vice-president of legal, education and regulatory support services.
"We can't compromise a case that's in court or an ongoing investigation," Losier said in a French-language interview.
White-collar crime like the offence Bard is alleged to have committed is difficult to investigate, said Sauvageau.
"This is way more complex than your typical armed robbery or burglary," he said.
Players can obscure paper trail
The people involved are sometimes willing participants, offshore tax shelters are used to obscure the paper trail, and sometimes people don't even realize a crime has been committed against them.
"Very quickly police are in well over their head in these kinds of investigations," Sauvageau said.
Police in New Brunswick don't have the specialized resources required to effectively pursue white-collar crime, according to Christian Michaud, a lawyer representing some of Bard's alleged victims.
"New Brunswick I consider to be one of the worst jurisdictions — or the best jurisdiction to commit white-collar crime," said Michaud.
"When is the last white-collar crime case you've ever heard of in New Brunswick?"
RCMP did not respond to requests from CBC News for an interview.
Sauvageau believes there have been many white-collar crime investigations in the province but they haven't caught the public's eye. Violent crime and robbery investigations tend to attract more attention and resources, he said.
Offenders go undetected
Meanwhile, white-collar crime "remains very much hidden from public view," Sauvageau said.
"What happens is they're not detected. To be sure, these people get away with it."
Even the cases that are detected rarely get aired in public because the parties involved usually try to deal with the matter internally or settle out of court.
"No company wants to publicize the fact that ... essentially, a crime has been committed," said Sauvageau.
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Nevertheless, he said, white-collar crime's impact on society is "tremendous," ranging from financial harm to human lives lost, in the case of corporate crimes that allow unsafe products to get to market.
"We are only left guessing what the total impact could be because of the lack of information."
"It's not to be taken lightly," said Sauvageau, adding the dearth of information makes it difficult to mount an educational campaign that warns people against this kind of thing.
Warning signs usually the same
The warning signs of fraud are fairly consistent, however, according to Losier of the Financial and Consumer Services Commission.
You only have a very limited time to accept an offer. The risk is nil. The promised returns are unrealistically high.
"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is," said Losier, repeating the old adage.
The commission does release some information about white-collar wrongdoing.
Public sometimes get warning
For example, it issues a notice if staff have determined there's an imminent risk to the public.
It can also say when someone has accepted sanctions in response to a complaint. It gives notice of upcoming public hearings to deal with complaints.
And it publishes decisions from those hearings.
Administrative penalties can range from $15,000 to $100,000 for individuals, $75,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars for corporations.
But it can be difficult to recoup lost funds for victims, Losier said.
"The money is often gone."
Financial and Consumer Services does not keep track of white-collar crime statistics. A spokesperson says tracking criminal statistics is not in the commission's domain.
It does refer cases to the police in some instances.
Ways to check
People who deal in financial services such as real estate, insurance, investment advice and credit brokerage are supposed to have a licence to operate in the province.
Some of those registries are posted on the commission website.
For others, you have to call the commission and ask, said Losier.
"Are there people working without licences who should have them?" said Losier. "Yes, there certainly are."
"That's why we have a complaint process."
With files from Radio-Canada, Information Morning Moncton and Gabrielle Fahmy